Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Three Little Words

I left the house feeling sassy. Cute lil’ dress (color-blocked, as they say on Project Runway), necklace, cutey-cute shoes. Great fall toenail polish color (wine). Hair? So-so, still looking a little dark and stringy for my taste, but all in all, okay.  Happy to head to my friend’s house for a rare afternoon tea with friends . . . and with a local candidate. Looking pretty good, feeling pretty good. Even as though I could hold my own in a political conversation if 1) my legitimacy were to be based on cute outfit alone and 2) I kept my mouth shut, unless eating a bite of cheese dip or laughing approvingly at the candidate’s jokes.
So yes, I felt good.
At the soiree, I mingled, hugged my dear friend, the hostess with the mostest, and talked to other familiar friends. I introduced myself to the candidate, listened to her positions on all sorts of things, and liked her a lot. Beautiful, autumn Sunday afternoon? Check. A nice party with friends? Yep. A good day all around.
As I was leaving, I was introduced by a good friend to another woman, somewhat older than myself, whom I had not yet met. Within moments of meeting me, instead of wasting time with chit chat about celebrity gossip or the candidate’s stances on stuff, she got right down to business, looking me enthusiastically as she spoke, smiling:
“When are you due?”
Such was my ignorance (I’d like to call it humble naiveté) that I was genuinely confused.
“I’m sorry,” I said, smiling, happy because she was happy, briefly thinking to myself Dammit, what deadline did I miss now?, “Due with . . . ?” I grinned foolishly, leaning in, waiting for her to fill in the blank.
“Um,” she leaned in herself, obviously thinking that I was so adorable with my pregnancy-addled forgetful brain. Smiling broadly, she spelled it out slowly, as if to an absent-minded foreigner who doesn’t know the language: “Your baaabyyyy???”
Anyone who’s ever falsely been accused of carrying fruit in her womb can tell you the odd way that time stands still while your brain processes what you have just been told: I look so fat that this person thinks I am somewhere more than 16, but less than 40, weeks pregnant. While time is still standing still, the nonfruitbearer does two things instinctively: suck in her stomach with every abdominal muscle she’s ever dreamed of possessing and stand up straight. Oh, and a third, less noticeable thing: try not to cry.
"Me?!" I answered, my shock clear, “I’m not.” For clarity, and to talk through my surprise, I added a second, “I”m not,” followed by a bewildered and somewhat crazy sounding, “I’m not DUE with anything.” I couldn’t bring myself to say, “Pregnant.” Perhaps they removed my ability to even consider myself pregnant when they removed my uterus four years ago, but I found I couldn’t even form the word.
What fascinates me most about this whole experience, two weeks later, is my reaction. I did, indeed, struggle to keep myself from crying. Time did seem to stand still as I felt both embarrassed and sorry for the woman who asked, as though it was my responsibility to reassure her. It was work to stay smiling as I hugged folks goodbye, thanked my friend for her wonderful food and hospitality, and made my way to the door. If I were forced to make a video re-creation of the experience, I would hire a (thin) wide-eyed, befuddled-looking actress, making her way through the grass toward her car using that camera technique that makes everything look swaying and dizzy. There would be melodramatic, soap operaesque music playing as the victim climbs in her minivan and, crying steadily, turns the key. The actress would then bang her palms on the steering wheel, pleading to the heavens, WHY??!!! WHY??!!
Then all of that stuff would end up on the cutting room floor, because it wouldn’t be real. That’s not what really happened. The self-bashing, the drama, was all inside. Not visible to viewers. For it is inside of me where the memories lie, and I am both my harshest critic and biggest bully.
In the short drive home, I was a EKG report of emotions: up, down, down, up, up, down, up, down, down . . . down. Those three little words (“Um, your baby?”) were all the black magic necessary to zoom me back through years (nay, decades) of wishing for the dedication to have better eating habits. For the wanting to want to work out more. Back through the thousands of times I’ve made faces at myself in the mirror or thrown clothes off in disgust. Of memories of looking around and always being one of the largest people, if not THE largest person, in every room. They brought back memories of a freshman girl hanging a sign on her door that said, “DO NOT EAT, TRACY. YOU ARE FAT.” Of flipping through magazines knowing that none of the styles would work on my body. Of countless years of Weight Watchers, of losing 68 pounds, of gaining 20 back. Of watching my body go from young to older to older in the mirror, wishing I had the tenacity to be more fit.  Of the life-long struggle to practice what I preach: caring about the beauty inside a person, not outside. I would never care about or judge someone based on their appearance. Why couldn’t I spare myself the same abuse?

I never have. It’s a quiet little secret that I carry around within me, silently yelling at myself on the sly, and I know too many women (and men, and girls, and boys) do the same. 
Maybe it was losing my breasts, for many women the very definition of their physical appearance, that caused me to change. Maybe it’s age, wisdom, or being too tired to care. For you see, if the “UmYourBaby” experience had happened five or ten years ago, I would not have bounced back in the five minutes it takes to drive to my house from my friend’s. But a few Sundays ago, that’s exactly what I did.
Here’s the thing: I know that I’m not anywhere close to being obese. I’m a good ole’ size 12. I know that. So, why was it bothering me so much? More to the point: why has it consumed me for so many years?
I’m not sure I’ll ever know the answer. I’m blessed that my image struggles have never turned physically unhealthy or led me to harm myself. But sitting behind the steering wheel, driving with tears in my eyes, the disappointment in myself suddenly became entirely too ridiculous for me. Thinking I’m overweight, calling myself names, worrying about every last crumb I put in my mouth became, in one split second on my ride home, tremendously, tremendously exhausting. And stupid, pointless. I’ve worked hard to have the body I have today, and I’ve wasted way too much time in my life being too mean to it, physically and emotionally. I was finished.
Sure, I’ll struggle to accept myself and my not-perfect bod.  But it’s clear to me now that I’ve wasted too many good moments that would probably add up to too many good hours, days, even weeks of beating myself up for the way I look, for not being able to fit in a pair of pants with single-digit size. I’ve lost my breasts and, thanks to my quick-and-painful shove into early menopause, gained a lot of hips and stomach in the process. My body may not be a temple, but in it, I’ve done a whole lot of worshipping and have come to see that the old cliche about life being too short is not at all cliche. I’ll constantly strive to eat healthier and to exercise more, not because someone thinks I look a little pudgy or because I am literally afraid of the cellulite that is creeping up and down my legs like kudzu (Seriously. I’m afraid of it.), but because it’s good for me and I like it. My body’s not modelicious. It never will be, and I’m closer to being okay with that than I ever have been before.

What did the woman do, many of you are probably wondering, once she realized her gaffe? She just grinned and said, “Oops. I promised myself I would never do that to any woman.” But she didn’t apologize. Maybe she thought it was my it was my girth’s fault, not her own. And truly, I am laughing about it now. 
I find that this is a much less exhausting place to be. And I like myself more, which is super groovy. Plus, there’s a big upside: I still look fertile AND young enough to bear a child. 
I’ll take it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Has Anyone Seen Wonder Woman?

Forgive me, Blogger, for I have sinned. It has been one month, one week, and six days since my last entry.
For a while there, I was on a roll. That is to say, I was confident. Not confident about the words on the page, per se; those still needed a lot of tweaking, rethinking, or even complete overhauling. Rather, my confidence came from the simple belief that, yes, I can do this. Look at me! I’m writing! I have something to say, and I’m saying it! My dozens of followers seemed to like what I have to say and maybe one of them has been affected in some way. I’m living the dream. Creating my very own 20s Left Bank Paris right in the middle of my suburban Panera. 
Words were flowing. Ideas were germinating. Deep down, a strange, exhilarating sense of balance was stewing and powering me through each day. All the random, every-day stuff? On it. Reaching down to the inner-passion stuff too? I got this. I turned into Wonder Woman: driving carpool, making dinner, shopping at Whole Foods (because Wonder Woman’s organic, too!), AND writing words that felt right to boot.  All the passive voice and excessive use of gerunds in this paragraph wouldn’t have bothered Wonder Woman, because she was creative and artsy and could throw grammatical caution to the wind.
Balance. Wonder Woman felt it. I felt it. And it felt great.
But then, a crucial error. I tried to make myself smarter. On my brief roll, I tried to make things move along faster, jump ahead of myself. In short, I began to do everything that I thought I should do. What must, logically, come next if I wanted to be a success at this writing/blogging thing. 
Creating a Facebook page for this blog was a start. I thought of the idea one day in the shower, where man- and womankind does its best thinking. It felt right, so I started it.
Next I dove headfirst into the overwhelming and creepily complex world of Twitter. What? What? What? did all of it mean? I still don’t know. But I did enjoy feeling like I was Neil Patrick Harris’s best friend for a few milliseconds. Almost immediately, it didn’t feel so right. I was in over my head, which was now swimming with technology speak and hash tags and updates and little red numbers on my iPhone cruelly reminding me that I was behind in yet another thing in my life.
Internet research told me I was behind, too. Market yourself, I would whisper angrily to my furrowed eyebrows. Get the name “Big Hips. Open Eyes.” to mean something to the world.  Educate yourself about how to successfully blog, how to grow an audience, how to reach more people every day. Read the stockpiles of brilliant insight; attend blogging conferences; define your audience; choose your wording carefully; make your site more colorful; make your site less colorful; appeal to more than moms; appeal to only moms; don’t ever appeal to moms; write more than you think you should; write less than you think you should; hug your children more; be a better friend; be a better wife; return all your damn phone calls; clean your room; eat green leafy vegetables . . . . Aaaaahhhhh. It was all too much.
You’re a failure at this already, I found myself lecturing one night while lying in bed. Everyone wants to be a writer. Everyone has a blog. Everyone wants to make a difference. Who are you to think you’re any different?
You’re nobody special. There’s no wonder to your woman.
So the writing stopped. I stopped the writing. It felt lonely. It felt wrong. I found myself frozen where I was, in some weird in-between space of not wanting to do anything half-assed and not wanting to fail at what I love so much.
That is, until people started asking me, simply and honestly, “When are you posting another entry?” A friend I hadn’t seen in months walked up and said, “I love your blog. I love what you have to say and the way you say it.” Another friend told me how much she enjoyed my style, the way I bring the end of an essay back to the beginning and find connections between ideas that aren’t immediately apparent. “Yes!” I jumped out of my seat, “That’s what I love to do!” Still another friend took me earnestly aside and said, “Don’t stop. You can’t stop.”
She was right. I can’t stop. I have missed it tremendously. This blog helped me discover a piece of myself that was always there but I hadn’t recognized. This piece, let’s call her Lynda Carter, has disguised herself as a college major, an interest, a proofreader, an editor, a journal scribbler, or a dabbler in really piss-poor poetry throughout the years. Lynda has always been along for the ride. Keenly aware, taking mental notes, keeping her eyes open.
Being a successful blogger does not mean being a successful writer. I can do the latter without doing the former. Maybe, occasionally, I'll get lucky and do a little bit of both . . . sometimes at the exact same time, rockin' my world in the process. No matter what, I'll learn a bit along the way (and potentially figure out how to retweet something).The lasso of truth be told, I can’t be Wonder Woman. It’s not in me. But Lynda is. I’ll write for her, and for me.

Friday, May 13, 2011

How Reality Television Can Save the World!

In a previous post, I mentioned how there is a well meaning Facebook friend of mine who finds it beyond appalling that I watch the Emmy-neglected Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise. Let me start off by saying that I don’t know this woman well, but I have friends who do, and we live in a small community, blah, blah, blah. This woman (bless her little heart) feels the need to scold me should I ever post about any single element of the show whatsoever. Each and every time. Apparently, she does not get my tongue-in-cheekness when I regale readers with my description of true love’s blooming like, well, a rose. (She also does not get ME, period, having once asked me if I subscribe to Gun and Garden magazine because she thought I’d really like it.)
Anyhoo, despite attempts to appear to the contrary, I can be a bit defensive. Or, rather, I let the defensiveness well up within me until I shake uncontrollably and give myself some sort of minor aneurism. Then I let it all release through a sweet, kind, neighborly little reply like, “Oh, I know. It’s silly, but it’s fun. [smiley face]” It’s like letting the air out of a hot air balloon by poking it with a straight pin. The defensiveness takes a while to hiss out that way.
Truth is, I love reality television. Whether it’s “reality” or reality, I love it and I will defend a big ole’ handful of shows, from said Bachelor franchise to the Hugh Hefner trainwreck and its spin-offs and beyond. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can be a snob. Like with books and music, there are some lines I simply cannot cross. Jersey Shore? Can’t do it (yet). Anything involving Bret Michaels? Not a chance. He slightly scares me. And although I can sing every word of Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise,” I shan’t watch Flava Flav go any further down the path of destruction and VD. The overexposure of drunkenness and asinine decision making has also led to the demise of my Real World obsession. May it rest in peace.
Legally, I cannot put a picture of "The Situation" here. This is a comparable situation.
But in more ways than I’ll bore you with here, Reality TV is, for the most part, perfect for yours truly--and, I’d argue--for most Americans out there, should they give it a chance. I love to travel, laugh, seek adventure, celebrate escapism, and (most significantly important to me) learn more about fellow humans on this little bitty earth. Reality TV puts all of that right in front of my eyeballs.
Take, for instance, last night, and the season finale of the world’s best reality show, The Amazing Race. I could go on and on about what makes this reality show a great reality show, but instead, I’ll give you a summarized play-by-play of musings (and all of these nuggets of wisdom are from just one episode):
  • Damn, those Harlem Globetrotters are hilarious. I would like to be their best friend.
  • Why do contestants keep speaking Spanish to the cab drivers in Rio? 
  • I thought Brazilian waxes are supposed to involve simply your nether-regions. Who knew that, in Brazil, it’s full body, including armpits?
  • Armpit waxing hurts.
  • Now the Globetrotter is doing the samba in a Speedo. Delightful.
  • CBS has to put a blurry line over the butt-cracks of thong wearers on the beach.
  • Rio is much prettier than I ever thought it would be. Oh, and they’re hosting the World Cup soon? How’d I miss that?
  • There’s a bike bridge that’s 7 miles near Miami? Cool.
  • Look how beautiful the water is in southern Florida. We should go there sometime.
  • Kisha and Jen, the sister team! They won! Raised by a single mother, they look forward to helping her like she helped them. Great, now I’m crying.
What does this list say, aside from the likelihood that I could benefit from a small dose or two of Ritalin? It says I learned something last night. Several things, actually, not the least of which is that Phil’s eyes have the ability to look straight into my heart. Like millions of viewers, I traveled all over the globe throughout the past few months. My fellow viewers and I saw cultures crazy-different from and similar to our own. We became a part of the workings of people that looked a little like us but spoke languages not understood. We learned logistical stuff (it’s possible to shop around lots of places for airfare and one should avoid taxis in India at all costs if you have motion sickness), and we learned something deeper (autism does not have to stop you from conquering fears or traveling to dozens of places). 
Have a disability? One contestant this season did; he is deaf, but he traveled all over the world and met all sorts of nutty obstacles head on with bravery and humor. I watched his mother be his friend, translator, and sometimes frustrated companion; in the process, I discovered a hell of a lot about what it means to love each other.
Project Runway, another fanTAStic show, has taught me a ton about creativity and artistry, what it means to be a struggling artist but never giving up, and the fashion industry, which I didn’t even know I was interested in before. It’s made my older daughter teach herself to sew; she now spends her spare time designing dresses and wondering which college programs have degrees in fashion, design, or merchandising (she’s 11). PR also gives me a regular dose of the beyond-brilliant Tim Gunn and led me to the amazing Project Rungay blog. [ed's note: just discovered this is now called Tom and Lorenzo: Fabulous and Opinionated] A previous devotee of Survivor, I now feel fairly equipped to handle life stranded on a desert island with nothing but a colorful scarf and a conniving villain at my side.
And the Biggest Loser? Don’t EVEN get me started. Sitting in my chair each week with a big bowl of ice cream in my lap, I’ve watched miracles of health and wellness unfold before my eyes. My husband and I look forward to each episode with (low-fat) relish, and yes, I typically cry. More than once. 
In fact, I’m fairly certain that if we got Kim Jong Il, Kadafi, President Obama, the ghost of Ganghis Khan, and Flava Flav all in one room for a marathon viewing of Biggest Loser episodes, we’d solve all the problems of the world. They would watch as Moses gives up his chance of winning the grand prize solely so Olivia, a woman he hardly knows, can continue on her weight-loss journey and ultimate gain the chance to have children. You see, HE knows what joy children bring to the world, because he has two daughters he loves; that’s why he’s on the ranch, for God’s sake, and he wants Olivia to know that same love.
[pause to reach for tissues]

Reality TV may be mind-melting for some, but for me, when I was on chemo, that was exactly what I needed. Anything with drama or written words or a plot, much less something that made me think the eensiest bit too hard, well, it was off limits. For me, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. Maybe it wasn't my oncologist, but still. Now that I'm (mostly) back to my old self, Reality TV and I will never, ever part. 
At the World Leader Reality Show Peace Summit, tears would flow and hearts would open and everyone would discover that yes, Kendra was once a stripper but is now a mom and realizes what’s most important in life. They would see that people, although they may get really drunk and pee on themselves in unfortunate situations, are ultimately good. People would listen to each other. Political parties would work together more and point fingers less. Wars would end.
That said, I know that’s not reality. But I sure would tune in to watch.

This picture is here because when I Googled "peace," this came up and it creeped me out.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

That's So Inappropriate

There’s a word in the Lynch household that is used rather often. I wouldn’t have thought much of this word even a few weeks ago, but for some reason, its presence has buzzed around my ear lately like a fly-by gnat. Not annoying, but just enough to get my attention.
The word? “Inappropriate.” 
When my daughters used this word as littler wee-ones, it never failed to crack me up. Hearing a five-year-old use any word too big for her mouth is always fantastic, but to hear one say, Pop pop, don’t say ‘butt.’ That’s inappropriate . . . well, now, that’s pure adorableness gold.
Lately, however, I’ve noticed a difference, a shift in my response from adoring to slightly unsettling. I can't help but realizing that this shift comes right alongside my girls’ rapidly advancing maturity. For them, there’s a shift, too. No longer does That’s Inappropriate mean something forbidden, something wrong in their worldview. What it means now is something along the lines of I know that’s wrong or feels weird to me, but I don’t know why and I don’t think I want to know. Or maybe I do. Why are the grownups laughing? What’s going on with my understanding of the world around me?!
Take, for instance, our dog. A couple of years ago, my eight year old, giddy on the high of first-time puppy ownership, yelled for my attention. I found her standing in the den, giggling hilariously, Fergus the puppy going to town on her little leg. “Look, Mama! He’s hugging my leg over and over again! He loves me!”
Fast forward to present. Same daughter, now a goofy eleven year old, rough-housing with said dog, stops suddenly to chastise him for this (now, thankfully, infrequent) behavior. “Fergus! No! Bad boy. That’s totally inapporpriate!”
A line has been drawn: the line of understanding. It’s a thick, fuzzy, foggy line; it’s a big patch of dry sand, where footprints and sandcastles can’t exist, right next to the wet sand, plaything of youth. She knows enough now, thanks to her growing brain, sex ed, television we probably shouldn’t let her watch, and Pop Pop, to realize that there is something she just knows is not right. But she also knows enough to know that she has no idea what that is.
Inappropriate. Why such a negative word for such natural phenomenon? For me, with my daughters, I’ve been listening for it and swatting at it with my own attempts at understanding, and finally, finally, I’ve come to this: “That’s inappropriate” is an off switch; it’s the way to stop the conversation, the image on the screen, the dog humping your leg . . . and thereby stop yourself from thinking too much about something that just doesn’t feel right. In itself, it’s its own misunderstanding. If something is inappropriate, we stop ourselves from walking that thick fuzzy line, through the unpleasantness and toward understanding. “That’s inappropriate” keeps us safe.
For my daughters, for kids of all ages, that’s okay. That’s called learning your own boundaries, something we all hope the youth of the world can do. We give them permission to ease themselves into what is and is not appropriate because they are, after all, kids.
Sometimes, though, we have to give them a little shove. Recently, my older daughter was MORTIFIED when I took her bra shopping. Out of respect for her (and soul-numbing fear that she will somehow read this post), I will not go into details, but I will tell you that she pretty much summed up the entire two-hour experience with a big, fat That’s Inappropriate, symbolized by a whole bunch of eye-rolls, several minor yells, and a full-on sprint away from the counter at checkout. I was there, though, to help her realize that no, it’s not inappropriate. It’s life. It’s growing up.
How did I do this? Well, I pulled out the only weapon I really ever carry with me: humor. I tried to make her laugh at herself a bit, loosen the mood. When it didn’t work, I got the eyerolls. But when it did, I got the shy smile, aimed toward her flip-flops, that demonstrates both processing and acceptance.
And no matter what, I got a kick out of it all. Sometimes, you’ve gotta just make yourself laugh. So when she was hiding out about 100 yards away pretending to get water at the water fountain, I waited in line for the older gentleman to ring up my size 32AA bras. Once, I caught her peeking up at me. That’s when I reached both hands to my chest, made little circles with them, and mouthed, “She’s getting her boobies,” quite dramatically. Of course, she didn’t realize that he wasn’t even looking at me. That was my little secret for the moment. I told her later, after I had stopped laughing at how funny I was. 
Was I being inappropriate? Me? Never. Was I perhaps teaching my daughter a slight lesson about messing with me in public? Maybe. Truly, though, I was trying to help her cross through that foggy line and emerge on the other side with understanding as the souvenir. The trip seems lighter with laughter.
As grown-ups, I propose we strive to constantly re-evaluate what we consider inappropriate. For some (ahem, me), political discussions seem inappropriate. So do religious ones. I know why. It’s because I get too nervous about discussing a point in which I’m not well-versed for fear of being called out, not knowing my shit, not having a valid point. Certainly, I could benefit from the understanding that broaching these inappropriate topics could bring. Probably. Maybe.
Earlier this year, I had the overwhelming honor to communicate and work briefly with David Jay. David is a photographer who is slowly and powerfully gaining world respect and recognition for his SCAR project. SCAR stands for Surviving Cancer. Absolute Reality. His is a series of moving, passionate, and real photographs of women who are on the other side of breast cancer. And they have the scars to prove it.
I had stumbled on David’s photographs in the same way I stumble on most of life’s truths: on Facebook. It’s hard to write about the effect they had on me, not because I’m quiet about the emotions they brought (and continue to bring) to the surface, but because, for a long time, I wasn’t quite sure what those emotions were or how to describe them. Here was a man who was putting to print the most secret, private part of me, for to share these photographs with people--as I felt compelled to do--was to show them myself naked. Literally and figuratively. Walking around without breasts had become a whisper of who I was, my own absolute reality. David’s photographs ripped off my clothes and invited others to click “like” at what they saw.
Or to be confused. Or surprised. Or, even, afraid.
After my surgery and subsequent healing, my own daughters, after all, had no longer been able to be with me when I undressed. A nudist by nature, I was profoundly altered by their response to my naked body. Nights spent putting our pjs on together were no more; instead, if they saw it was time for me to change, they practically ran to their room, often shutting my door behind them, lest I forget to do so myself. They are little and could not, therefore, be casual about their aversion. My younger daughter, nestling with me in my chair one night and resting her head on my chest, told me she missed my breasts, that I was too boney and not comfy anymore. The same daughter, with her trademark full-disclosure honesty policy, instructed me once to change clothes in our hotel room bathroom, alone, away from them. She waved her hand in my chest’s general direction and explained, “That’s just creepy.”
These things crushed me for more reasons than I could count. I was less of a woman to my girls. I was a mystery. I scared them.
That is, until months after I first discovered David Jay’s photographs. On this particular night, I was re-examining his extensive collection on line. One by one, I clicked through the photographs, until I slowly became aware that someone was looking over my shoulder. It was my daughter.
“What are you doing, mama?” she asked, quietly.
“Looking at these amazing photographs.” Long silence. “Do you want me to stop?”
“No,” she said softly, so I continued on. Eventually, we reached a photograph of a beautiful woman, arms stretched high over her head, that revealed her penetrating eyes and double-mastectomy scars.
“That looks like you!” my little girl practically gasped. I agreed, and we sat there in silence until my other daughter came over, timidly, ready to see, too. They were safe there with me, computer screen in my lap, and they saw something new in that woman who looked like their mother.
A few days later, getting in my comfy clothes for the night, I gave my usual precaution to my little girl: “I’m getting ready to change, honey.” Our unspoken agreement was yes, it's okay for you to leave now.
“That’s okay, mama. I don’t need to go.” So she stayed. And we talked, and we giggled. And neither of my girls has looked away since.
David Jay’s photographs have been deemed by some as inappropriate. They are too real, too honest, and show too much. There are nipples. There are lack-of-nipples. There are the curves of a woman’s shape. There are the glaring absences where a woman’s shape should be.
This winter, while working on a writing project with David about SCAR, I discussed as much with him. The topic came up as he explained that only on-line articles ever showed his work. Not one print piece had ever shown a photograph. As one Italian journalist put it, her editor chose not to include the images in the story about SCAR because “he says the images are too much strong, that he makes feel bad.”
Despite the hilarity of the accompanying translation problems, his statement says a lot about what we, as grownups, see as inappropriate in the world. For kids, facing the inappropriate may be scary because they’re learning something that they didn’t know before. Growing up is, after all, scary for us all. It makes feel bad. But it’s best that we all do it, no? Was the Italian editor afraid of that blurry line, the one that allows us to cross into understanding? Did he turn the switch to “off?” I think he did. Luckily, my daughters did not. They were pretty damn brave. 
And I am pretty damn grateful.

Monday, April 18, 2011

It's Good for Me

Recently I saw a news story on “soft addictions.” As I half-listened, half-answered-emails, I chugged my second cup of coffee, groggily letting phrases enter my consciousness: 
“Not life-threatening. Blah. blah. blah. You can quit but don’t want to. Blabbedy-blah-blah blah blah. Really comes down to when it affects personal time or productivity.”
The word productivity pulled my lazy eyes upward to the television, where the newsfolk continued their reportage. Some higher being whispered to me that I needed to pay attention, so I did. Eventually, as the caffeine hit my veins, I cranked up the volume and came to the slow realization that the folks on the screen, far, far away in NYC, were talking about ME. I felt embarrassed, taken by surprise. This was an intervention, and it was in MY living room. Wow. I didn’t see it coming, Meredith and Matt.
Let me first say that I certainly would never, ever make light of anything associated with the word “addiction,” because, let’s be honest, there is nothing funny about addiction. I know this: I found myself paying extreeeemely close attention. And it did strike me at that moment that just about anything we, as human beings here in the 21st century, do to help ourselves relax or unwind or be distracted for a while could be considered counterproductive. I put the computer away and strained to actually pay attention; it was the least I could do, since they were lecturing me and had my best interest at heart. Sure, I thought, I could probably be a little more productive in my life. I really, really should give up . . . I should immediately stop . . . Certainly, I could live without . . . 
And that’s where I got stuck. What would I give up? Now, before you go thinking I’m a living, breathing angel who could not possibly find one personal flaw, think again. I sat there befuddled because I was stumped. Really, there were so many soft addictions to choose from. Where would I possibly start? Should I drop everything that’s remotely bad for me or really annoying to others or “interfering with normal life?” How would I function? Would people still like me? Would I even BE ME any more??!!!!!
As you can tell by the exclamation marks, I started to get a little nervous about my (many) shortcomings and began to wonder if they were more than shortcomings. By the time I changed the channel (it was hurting my head to think so hard), my answer was clear. 
In the time since the news piece, I’ve done a little research (i.e., Googling and Wikipediaing). Judith Wright is largely credited for coining the term “soft addiction.” As Wright herself told WebMd, “Soft addictions are those seemingly harmless habits like watching too much television, over-shopping, surfing the Internet, gossiping -- the things we overdo but we don't realize it . . .” Then she added, “Yes, this means you, Tracy.”
Again, I would never mock addiction issues, soft or hard. But I like to heal through humor, and admitting my problem(s) is the first step in the right direction, so I present you with the most profound soft addictions I face. Perhaps you’ll recognize yourself in some of the behaviors and you’ll realize that you’re not alone. You'll always have me.
Angry Birds: Yes, I know this is a video game. And yes, if I were being honest, I would admit that it can occasionally slightly interfere with my productive time. Or with my bed time. But you’d be angry, too, if someone took YOUR eggs. I tell myself that it’s good for my brain, for my problem-solving skills. And each time those snide little green pigs oink their victory oinks at me, I tell myself that it’s okay to play the level “just one more time” to show them who’s boss. They deserve each black eye I give ‘em.
Yelling at the Contestants on Wheel of Fortune: Tell me this. If the clue currently reads “H _ P P Y   B _ R T H D _ Y,” for the love of God, why do you need to buy a vowel? WHY! Do these kind people not realize that buying a vowel means taking away from their own winnings? When watching, I shout these same questions (again and again and again) out loud and elicit eye rolls from my children, who love the show and are still too young to be tarnished by the foolish playing of clueless (hee hee) contestants.
The Bachelor/Bachelorette Franchise of Brilliance: I have actually had peeps on Facebook get angry at me because I watch the Bachelor/ette. To them I say, lovingly, suck it. It’s my brain I’m disintegrating, not yours. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I love to see who will get so drunk on the first episode they puke out their nose. Oh, and will they, WILL THEY?, accept the key to the fantasy suite? The suspense, plus the exotic world travel, plus the sincere professions of love in the hot tub all combine to create the perfect concoction of cheese. 
Correcting the Punctuation and Grammar Mistakes of Others: My children will cower into any public corner if they hear me gasp disgustedly and then reach in my purse for a pen. I simply cannot let the “Lets Celebrate!” sign go without that apostrophe, and I WILL add it. A dry-erase menu board advertising “All You Can Eat Crab Leg’s” will compel me to add three hyphens so fast your head will spin. And of course I’ll delete the shockingly oft-present apostrophe in a plural noun. I have my integrity.
Becoming BFFs with Strangers with Whom I Wait in Line: We’re on the planet for a short time. Might as well strike it up in the post office line with someone who is also mailing their taxes at 11:58 p.m. I’ve actually learned a lot about others, myself, and the smallworldness of life by striking up a conversation. When I was bald from chemo and sick as a dog, I met a woman named Kimberly in DSW after I complimented her four-year-old son on his tennis shoes. “They’re UNC colors,” I pointed out, “Do you like UNC?” He thought for a moment and then pointedly replied, “I think that’s a question you’re going to have to ask yourself.” Kimberly and I both laughed. A lot. Turns out she was new and knew no one; turns out I was lonely and sad, although I didn’t tell her that. We exchanged numbers. I lost hers, just like I lost much of my memory from that time, but one day during a particularly rough patch, I listened to my messages and heard the nicest one from her, thanking me, of all people, for making her feel welcome. I wish I could find her number, because I should be the one thanking her. I wouldn’t have gotten that gift if I had not said hi.
Planning Mythical Vacations: I will map out entire itineraries, plan make-believe show times, research probable dinners out, and decide which fake flight would give us enough of a layover to catch our next fake flight. I love the daily life in which I live, but man, do I love a good vacation.
Google Map Touring: I have seen the Eiffel Tower from the streets beneath it. I have done a full 360 right down the street from Parliament in London. Want to find the perfect adorable Italian village, nestled at the foot of the Alps? I’ve found it (Torino). All of this worldly travel was brought to you by Google and its amazing “Maps” feature. When I was on chemo and couldn’t leave my chair, I could still see the world. My favorite haunt: Beverly Hills. I'd go all "street level" on Rodeo Drive, just hoping to see a celebrity. In fact, last summer, on a real-life vacation, exiting off the interstate in Los Angeles just ‘cause we could, I got us straight to the Playboy Mansion without the help of a map or a GPS, simply because I remembered the route from good ole’ Google. That’s either insanely sad or super impressive. I’m not sure which.

Are these things time wasters? I’m sure some would argue that they are. But I feel as though I’ve learned a lot about myself, my husband, my daughters, and those I love because of my soft addictions. Maybe I’m kidding myself by saying that, or by believing I’m exercising my brain. The truth is, I feel fairly well-rounded most of the time. I like to read, walk, hang with my girls, laugh a lot, and write. So perhaps I’m not really exercising my brain with these soft additions (or the dozens of other ones that were too pathetic to mention here), but, rather, getting the rest I need. 
There. That sounds better.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Other, Less Glamorous, BMW

Last week featured a series of Bad Mom Days.
You can read that any way you want, because each possible interpretation is fitting. Add the implied, invisible hyphen after “mom.” Bad mom-days. A handful of this mom’s days that were gross. Not horrific, not painfully painful. Just bad, a succession of ill-timed events, poorly planned meals, grumpy kids, and a stinky dog who seemed to need to urinate more than ever before . . . these combined to make yucky days.
If you placed periods between the words, as is a writers’ trend these days, you’d get “Bad. Mom. Days.” You can practically smell the exasperation, the fatigue.
Should you throw in a hyphen to magically create a modifier, voila!: you’d get “Bad-Mom Days.” This would imply that I was, during any number of more than one 24-hour period, a bad mom. Okay. I’ll give you that. In hindsight, I could see that last week, I was not doing my best work.
So, take five to seven Bad Mom Days. If you toss in not just a tired Mom but a sick Mom (sprinkled with a dash of Multiple Field Trip Volunteer Obligations and a steaming side of Dad’s Out of Town), well, then, you have the perfect recipe for the Bad Mom WEEK (BMW), a true masterpiece.
Bad days, bad weeks, are not altogether uncommon. But what stood out as being so grody to the max about last week was my kids’ roles in perpetuating the grodiness to the maximus. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got two great kids. Anyone who knows my girls knows that certain adjectives come to mind when describing them: funny, kind, creative, compassionate. They are also, how shall I say?, 10 and 11. And anyone who has any familiarity with 10 and 11 year olds knows that other colorful adjectives can occasionally come to mind: sassy, independent, annoying, lazy . . . I could go on, but I’ll stop while I’m ahead.
Last week was one of those rare weeks when I needed kindness and compassion beyond the level my daughters are developmentally capable of giving me. Could they drive to the store to get my antibiotics? No. Would they say, “Dearest mother, should I make you a warm compress while my homemade casserole is in the oven?” Not a chance. They did what they could, when they could, and it wasn’t their fault I had an overcommitted wacky week to begin with.
Throughout BMW, I found myself facing the profound truths that my daughters are actually growing up, turning more toward their own interests, and, perhaps the harshest reality, becoming more and more honest with their feelings. At more than one point during the week, I found myself actually questioning: Do my own children even like me? 
Snippets from one day went a little something like this:
Scene: Three Lynch women reading in den.
Me: [flipping pages of the new book I’m reading] Wow! I really love my book.
Girl 1: [silence]
Girl 2: [silence, flipping own page of own book]
Me: Yep, sure do like it.
Girl 1: [annoyed silence]
Girl 2: [annoyed silence, punctuated with a side of aggravated shuffling]
Me:  Um. Does anyone have a pen I can borrow?
[Cue both girls exiting room in search of silence]

Wednesday featured getting my hair highlighted for the first time since its rebirth after chemo. My hairdresser, Sarah, the angel, did my hair twice (the first time around was way too subtle for me, and I was really itching to get rid of the unusual shade of steel). I had therefore spent almost five hours at the salon. I raced back home in time for the bus to meet me with its blinking lights.
Upon greeting my younger daughter, I gave her a hug and then treated her to a little flirtatious, look-at-me-notice-anything-different-about-me dance. Not taking the hint, I asked, "Notice anything?" She looked me up and down, up and down, frowning in the sharp sunlight. “Nah,” she told me, as a way to end the conversation (and, more than likely, the dance).
“I got my hair highlighted!” I practically giggled as I skipped after her.
“It looks exactly the same,” she said, melting the grin off my face as she continued walking home.
Did she know the weight of that highlighting session? Did she realize that I had been waiting almost two years to make myself look at least a little like the ME I used to know? No. She’s 10. But still. 
At 3:30 that same day, I picked my older daughter up from the bus stop. In the car on the way to her allergy shots, I made conversation about school. She was stressed about not having a field trip partner. I was feeling sad for her, so I tried in vain to think of ways to find a field trip partner. This went back and forth and back and forth until, finally, she shut me up good: “Mom. Stop. You don’t understand.”
How couldn't she know that her not having a field trip partner kills me? Why is she so mad at me all the time?
Why hasn’t she noticed my hair?
The week went on in much the same way. Me, waking up, thinking to myself, the sun’ll come out today! One of them walking down the stairs, saying, by way of greeting, “Where’s breakfast?” and my reproach turning me into the bad guy. Me, asking one of the girls to help me set the table for dinner and getting the response, “I’m not finished with this yet.” There I am, the bad guy . . . again.
What I'm finding is that our relationships are changing. There are new boundaries here, here in a time and place when my girls no longer follow me around from room to room, wanting to know what I’m doing, telling me that I look pretty with my new lipstick on, and asking if they can brush my hair. I remember the sounds of their socks slipping across the floor as they scattered to find me when I would walk in the door; can still hear them screaming, “Mama!” as they run in for their hugs. Things change, and I have to learn to take their affection in the doses they are comfortable giving me, I guess.
It’s going to take me time to learn to navigate these new waters. And to not be hurt by my fellow sailors, who are learning to navigate, too.
I’ll never forget one of my first Bad Mom Days. I was about 30 months pregnant and had faced a long, long day with my older little girl, Kylie. She was only 17 months old and all day had fought sleep, cried, made messes all over the house, and generally didn’t realize that I was pregnant and tired. In a rare moment of insight, I decided to take her out of the house, get us both out of the toxic environment we were in, and treat her to her very first vanilla ice cream cone.
We got the cone at Ukrop’s. As I ordered, my little blonde girl waited, holding onto my leg and trying to peek into the compartment that held all the magical flavors of this food I was introducing her to. With the cone in one hand and her baby fingers in the other, I waddled over to a table, handed her the treat, and carefully lifted her into the chair. 

I can see her now, little legs resting on the chair, forming an L shape with her tennis shoes barely hanging off the edge of the seat. She held on to the cone with two hands, staring at it, smiling, with her blue eyes open wide. “Go on,” I urged her, telling her to lick it carefully. She did, and she looked at me with amazement, as if to say, “Can you BELIEVE this?!” She giggled and licked and giggled and licked.
To my left, a beautiful black woman was staring at us, smiling from the same place in her heart from which I write this now. She was witnessing a mother and her child, sharing a moment, and just then, I saw what she saw: love. Not the tears or the frustration or the dirty diapers or the exhaustion. Just the love. I smiled at the woman, and she smiled back at me and said, simply, “So cute.”
Kylie noticed someone else was in the supermarket at that moment and stopped to look at the woman who had just spoken. Kylie seemed to give her a nod, as she smiled and showed her her ice cream cone. My heart felt like it would explode, and right then, Kylie spoke directly to the woman in her baby-talk, clearly uttering the phrase I have never forgotten:
“Hi, Oprah!”
I thought of this memory--the one that still makes me cry and makes me laugh--last week, in the middle of Bad Mom Week. Ten years later, and I feel clueless some of the time. I still get my feelings hurt because my children have the audacity to be themselves and not be able to figure out my every whim and wish. I’ll learn to be patient, and I’ll try to figure them out even as they’re trying to figure themselves out. And, when a Bad Mom Day devolves into a Bad Mom Week, I’ll be the grown-up and do whatever I can to get us out of the rut.
Me and my babies: old hair, same sweet girls.

Like an ice cream cone for dinner. Which is exactly what we did last week, right there smack-dab in the middle of Bad Mom Week. Things have seemed a lot better ever since.